Friday, October 31, 2008

My Beautiful Showerette.


Read this story and join me in disapproving of the celibate execs over at Disney who thought a showering Zac Efron in "High School Musical 3" would've been scandalous.
He's legal for crying out loud!
Then again, they might just be thinking about us and saving it all for a gigantic, splendiferous, gargantuan DVD box set.
Considering that the two previous films have come in the shapes of an "Encore Edition", a "Remix Edition" and a "Extended Edition" among others, and more to come, one can only wonder how will they name the one with Zac's extended scene...
The "Bathhouse Fun Edition".
The "Don't Drop the Soap Edition".
The "Can't Stop the Beat(ing) Edition".

Do you think "High School Musical 3" will have a longer life on DVD if they include this? And if so what would you name the edition?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

The 7 Things.

Making me suspicious of his knowledge about the freaky list maker in me, Michael of "My Stuff and Cr*p" has tagged me in a meme where one is to reveal seven dark secrets about themselves.
OK maybe dark is too much; it's just about random stuff. Like him, I have chosen to make mine about the movies (as sadly my private life isn't half as fascinating to strangers and would sound more David Lynch than tabloid fodder).
So without further ado, here they are:

1. I hated the 2005 Oscars so much that I was this close to not watching them.
Not only was I an adamant non-supporter of "Brokeback Mountain", but I loathed "Crash" and most of the other nominees (even Best Actress was a turn off for me). None of the Best Picture nominees of the year made my Top Ten of that year, which is a first for me.

2. I know who won the Oscar for Best Picture every year.
Try me. People who know this make me feel like the kid from "Magnolia" sometimes.

3. I simply can not enter a theater if I know the movie has started.
I never take bathroom breaks either and I rarely pause DVDs.

4. Federico Fellini is one (out of three) of my favorite directors ever, but I don't own any of his films and have seen most only once.

5. Contrary to popular belief that I am a robot, I have cried with some movies. But while most of them just make me misty eyed and a bit angsty, only two have made actual tears fall down my cheeks, roll down my face and gave me a runny nose. The distinguished weepies are "Stepmom" and "Out of Africa".

6. I have a few so called "rainy day movies" which I automatically pop into my player when I'm feeling down, they are: "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Casablanca", "Far From Heaven", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Volver".
They always lift my mood up again.

7. I hate Hilary Swank, but I own "Boys Don't Cry" and "Million Dollar Baby".

...I make you love me, I do.

Go Wildcats!


Curious as to what the hype was all about, I watched "High School Musical" yesterday.
I'd obviously assumed that since it was for children, it was going to be yet another of those prefabricated, easy to digest, instantly forgettable pieces of junk entertainment they're served every day.
It wasn't. For one, it felt refreshing even if it was released two years ago (which in tween entertainment years is like B.C), the music is fun, the characters are appealing (Ahsley Tisdale steals every scene and proves, the blonde, villainous girls always have more fun), but the best part of it all is how it dares to do what very few films do nowadays: unashamedly proclaim they're musicals!
The style is even in the title! (Give me a contemporary musical that showed its style in its trailer...even "Moulin Rouge!" was made to look like camp drama) And still people flock to it! Which makes all those cries of "people hate musicals" completely obsolete.
In fact one of the best things about the script is that it uses this for comedic, meta effect. The plot sometimes revolves around the fact that nobody in school can believe that the jock (Zac Efron) and the geek (Vanessa Hudgens) are auditioning for their high school musical.
And what is the best way to complain about this? A song of course!
Therefore we have basketball teams performing unselfconscious choreographies, entire cafeterias twirling and singing about status quo and an altogether sense of joy that infects anyone watching it. I, for one, can't wait to see the other two now.

Bruce LaBruce Explains War.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Blindness *1/2


Director: Fernando Meirelles
Cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael García Bernal
Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Don McKellar

"Allegorical poetic films never do work."
- Pauline Kael

In an unnamed city, in an unnamed country, an unnamed man (Iseya) suddenly becomes blind.
His wife (Kimura) rushes him to an ophthalmologist (Ruffalo) who assures him that they will find a cure, or at least an explanation, for whatever caused this.
The following morning the doctor wakes up and realizes he's gone blind as well. During the following days the disease, which becomes known as the "White Sickness", spreads among the population leaving the government no other choice, of course, than to quarantine all the affected and leave them to their own devices until they know how to handle the situation.
Unbeknown to most people is the fact that the doctor's wife (Moore) has inexplicably retained her eyesight and pretends to be blind in order to be with her husband.
She however seems to ignore Erasmus' famous saying and chooses instead to become some sort of slave in what slowly turns into a decaying microcosm.
The blind are left at the mercy of the military who fears becoming infected by the disease and are forced to live in inhuman conditions. Soon a dictatorship is formed in one of the hospital wards, where a man (Bernal) names himself king and takes over food distribution exchanging it for jewelry, money and sexual favors.
As the people adapt to this new life, we are left to wonder what exactly caused it, how will they survive and even more mysterious, what exactly is going on outside the hospital?
Adapted from Nobel Prize winner José Saramago's homonymous novel, "Blindness" is the kind of film that should come with a warning letting us know that allegories and metaphorical laziness are closer than they appear.
Within the pedigree it boasts, it has forgotten that at the core of any artistic experience is the need for identification.
People don't need to agree with art for them to take it as art, what they need is to feel that the author meant to say something and knew how to justify his message.
"Blindness" is so selfconscious of its own didacticism that it forgets to care about itself or the characters in it.
While the idea that anonymity encourages empathy seems to be effective, the problem is that the characters here aren't just missing a backstory, but an identity.
The actors play archetypes instead of characters and they do a bad job because the traits given to them have been so diluted for instant consume that they are left with nothing to work on.
The casting which tries to be all politically correct and United Nations like by having Asian, Hispanic, Black and White characters in the lead roles fails because instead of promoting diversity it encourages racial stereotypes.
Therefore we are left with an exotic Brazilian prostitute (Braga), a wise, weathered black man (Glover in a role that Morgan Freeman could've played in his sleep) and a slightly chauvinistic Asian man (Iseya) all subjugated by the opression of minorities in the hospital scenes and later left to be rescued by the almighty white characters.
Yes, it's true that the people in the film can't see what they all look like, but the audience can and despite cinematographer César Charlone's attempts to emulate the milky blindness of the ill, we remain esentially visual beings and the film's style remains esentially pompous going on humble.
Saramago's book was colloquial and his writing even vulgar to a point, but the way in which his pen spits the words (without even taking the time to punctuate) gave his story an urgency that Meirelle's lethargic interpretation completely misses.
We know all along that at some point of the film something within us is expected to click and make us go "Oh! This isn't so different from the world we're living in", but the moment never comes precisely because not even the director himself seems to have faith in the story he's telling.
It's true that allegories retain an implicit sense of ambiguity, but we must remember that even artistic symbolism springs from a precise sociopolitical and historical context of which this film seems to be unaware.
When referring to the doctor's wife one of the characters expresses how having a "leader with vision" makes them feel safe.
And while the term makes sense during these politically minded times (and almost seems to have been borrowed from some presidential slogan) the same can not be said of Mereilles who takes his film into emotionally drained, intellectually selfindungent roads where it's always the blind leading the blind.
I was shocked and awfully moved after reading this story. Just yesterday I bought myself a copy of "Dreamgirls" (which was on sale) and despite the fact that I don't love the film, Jennifer Hudson has been a constant celebrity crush for me after "Sex and the City" in the summer and her delicious debut album a few weeks ago.
She is one of the only "reality" stars I endorse (not that they give a damn of course), but Jennifer's story is one I can admire because she has the one thing most of the rest lack: true talent.
My condolences and best wishes go out to Ms. Hudson.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beverly Hills Chihuahua **


Director: Raja Gosnell
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Piper Perabo, Manolo Cardona,
José María Yazpik, Jesús Ochoa, George Lopez, Andy García, Plácido Domingo, Edward James Olmos, Drew Barrymore

If Paris Hilton was a bitch she would've been instantly cast in the role of Chloe (voiced by Barrymore) a pampered, spoiled Hollywood chihuahua whose owner Viv (Curtis) takes her shopping, to social gatherings and adorns her with Harry Winston diamonds.
When Viv has to go on a business trip, she leaves Chloe under the care of her niece Rachel (Perabo) who thinks the dog is merely a spoiled hairy creature, unaware that Chloe holds her in the same regard.
Rachel's friends organize a sudden trip to Mexico where Chloe suffers the lack of stars in her hotel as well as complete negligence of her usual care.
She decides to teach Rachel a lesson and go back home on her own, but instead ends up held captive by vicious dognapper Vásquez (Yazpik). She runs away with the help of noble German shepherd Delgado (García) who reluctantly agrees to help get her back to California before they're caught by Vásquez and his evil Doberman Diablo (voiced by Olmos). This gives path to their adventure which includes pumas, stolen jewels, life changing realizations and more Mexican clichés than you can stuff in a chimichanga.
The truth of the matter is that probably nobody watching this film is expecting Neorrealism or a Kafkian experience, the real surprise is that the film is much more charming and effective than it should've been.
While one might assume that anything featuring cute talking animals is enough to grab a child's attention, the animators, puppeteers and every other crew member that worked on the characterizations have done an impeccable job and manage to give the dogs and other animals souls of their own.
The film does an effective job as a sort of "Lady and the Tramp" update, as Chloe is being searched by Papi (voiced by Lopez) and his owner Sam (Cardona) who works as Viv's gardener and has a thing for Rachel.
Sadly the human characters are never as compelling as their canine counterparts and when the film tries to include them in the plot, Chloe's story loses some momentum that drags more than it helps, as well as when they walk the extra mile to be preachy about animal adoption and care.
Perhaps they should've tried to comment on why would someone put diamonds on a dog as it might send a wrong idea for small children (who probably know nothing about what recession is but will find out the hard way when they insist Spike would look fabulous with a tiara) and maybe rely less on hispanic stereotypes to convey dramatic arts (although for a Disney film to show a Mexico City with four star hotels and skyscrapers is a sort of groundbreaking move).
They should've trusted the story itself which will have everyone leaving the cinema with a smile on their faces and a desire to be extra nicer to their pets back home.

Another Reason Why I Love Musicals.


"No one could teach you to dance in a million years".
- Penny (Ginger Rogers) to Lucky (Fred Astaire) in "Swing Time".

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stop-Loss *


Director: Kimberly Peirce
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum
Abbie Cornish, Ciarán Hinds, Tymothy Olyphant, Mamie Gummer

It took almost a decade for Kimberly Peirce to realize that boys do cry...a lot apparently.
Her sophomore film takes on the Iraq war with the same intentions films like "The Deer Hunter" (even casting Gummer who despite family ties is sadly no Meryl Streep) and "The Best Years of Our Lives" did for their respective time periods in the past.
And the one sad truth that can be extracted from her film is precisely the fact that war, not just the one in Iraq but the concept itself, has been going on for too long already.
The rest feels like "Dawson's Creek" goes to war as we see a bunch of pretty guys return to their Texas hometown and try to re-insert themselves into society.
Phillippe plays Brandon King, the leader of the group who is stop-lossed (some sort of contractual army thing that deems you can be called back to service despite your leave). This challenges all his notions on what he thought life would be and forces him to wonder if the war was worth fighting for.
Then again is there somewhere in the planet who thinks so? "Stop-Loss" never really says anything new and instead infuses its lack of purpose with melodramatic twists that make the story feel forced and redundant.
Arriving under the MTV Films banner, the movie tries its best to attract young people by relying on hunky men, quick edits and hard rock montages that only serve in alienating the heart the film so much wants to reveal.
The cast does a satisfying job, especially Tatum as the rebel of the group who shows promising range and Cornish (looking like a hybrid of Drew Barrymore and Charlize Theron) who gives the film its only moments of grace.
But the screenplay uses the characters indiscriminately as examples and archetypes instead of building interesting stories through which we can connect to them.
They often refer to events in Iraq as "this war", as if it was something completely external to them. Which somehow is considering this is a movie and the people are fictitious, but we need to believe they aren't!
Peirce's film comes at a moment where the world has become infected with apathy and her unaffecting characters never touch any sentiments in the audience.
One of the film's montages features a title card that reads "we will remember", the same can not be said of this film.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Playtime.




Tati finds a distinctively beautiful melody even in the chaotic symphony of urbanity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

They Don't Make 'em Like This Anymore.


"I'm honest, dependable, courageous, romantic and a great kisser."
- Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) in "The Purple Rose of Cairo".

The Visitor **


Director: Thomas McCarthy
Cast: Richard Jenkins
Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass

Richard Jenkins plays Walter Vale a lonely, college Connecticut professor who goes to New York for a conference and discovers Tarek (Sleiman) and Zainab (Gurira), a young couple that has been squatting in his apartment.
After kicking them out, he feels compassion and invites them to stay over until they find a better place to live. In the process he befriends Tarek who is a talented djembe (Syrian drum) player while slowly earning the trust if Zainab.
The young couple gets him out of his rut, until immigration problems arise and Walter must prove his humanity.
For a film that tries so much to keep small proportions, "The Visitor" retains an underlying condescension that makes it more uncomfortable than sweet.
Writer/director McCarthy tries to deliver both a story about second chances and an exposé on the way immigrants are treated in the United States without really backing up his ideas.
It's as if the plot has a backup plan, thinking that if it doesn't work in a certain way, they will always be able to push the other way.
The melting pot that is New York City brings an organic feeling to the movie, but this can't be attributed to the filmmakers but rather to the inevitability to escape the richness brought by the multiculturality of the city.
What can be attributed to the film are the beautiful performances from all the ensemble. Jenkins gives a master class in subtlety and layering. While his professor could've been an eccentric Grinch of sorts, Jenkins knows better and lets him blossom slowly.
The beauty of his performance is that you're never able to detect the moment where his characters turns into something else.
Sleiman is charismatic and irresistible as is Abbass, who plays Tarek's mother in a role whose quiet dignity and class screams "Shoreh Agdashloo".
But at the end the film can't help but feel a bit inconsistent, because someone like Walter, who harbors so much pain and anger, wouldn't have let two immigrants off the hook for living ilegally in his apartment just like that (he didn't even take a late paper from one of his students!), especially not when the film highlights 9/11 paranoia so much.
And then with all of its worldly wisdom, McCarthy can't help but limit his vision and make the film feel like everything happened in order so that the well to do American learnt a lesson.

Nights in Rodanthe **


Director: George C. Wolfe
Cast: Richard Gere, Diane Lane
Viola Davis, Christopher Meloni, James Franco, Scott Glenn

Apparently single, middle aged, obscenely beautiful people find hurricanes to be the ultimate aphrodisiac. Or so thinks Nicholas Sparks, whose books lead to sappy film adaptations that make people swoon over the fact that they're so utterly corny.
Lane plays Adrienne Willis, who is separated from her husband (Meloni) and must endure the wrath of he teenage daughter (Mae Whitman) who blames her for her unhappiness.
One weekend she offers to look after her best friend Jean's (Davis playing the sassy, token best friend) seaside inn (a beautiful, if unstable looking dream house), located in the title town, where she is told there will only be one guest (in what must one of the dumbest economic strategies ever, but all's well in the name of potential love...).
The lodger is Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere) who has come to Rodanthe to make peace about an issue that has left him emotionally stuck. After his stay there he plans to visit his son (Franco) who works as a doctor in an Ecuador jungle.
This leaves them with a weekend to live up to the passionate affair audiences buy their movie ticket for and with an imminent hurricane that will leave them trapped there alone, somehow they deliver this.
It's rare for a film to rely on two mature film stars to work this kind of magic and because of this the film seems braver than what it is. Gere and Lane, who aren't as popular as say Hanks and Ryan or Hepburn and Tracy, make you feel as if this, their third onscreen reunion, is some sort of event that can't be missed.
She works her sensual charm to new levels of MILF-ness (with the necessary crying scenes now and then to remind us she's a serious actress) and Gere who becomes more subtle by the decade brings a barely there warmth to Paul that makes him irresistible.
The plot is as contrived as they make them (sunsets and wild ponies everywhere should sue for exploitation) and if you know Sparks, you know how this will end.
The surprise coming out of the cinema though is that this extreme corniness works! And you will find a tear or two falling down your cheek.
But as if with the emotions in this film you will find yourself wondering if they're CGI as well.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I Just Died a Little...


Academy Award winners Marion Cotillard and Sophia Loren joined by Fergie outside a London restaurant a few nights ago in order to celebrate the filming of "Nine".
They were also joined by Kate Hudson and Dame Judi Dench who was probably giving Fergie a run for her money in the hip department.
In what's definitely becoming my favorite shooting project, "Nine" is a musical adaptation of one of my favorite films of all time "8 1/2".
Missing in the party were Nicole Kidman and Penélope Cruz (hmmm...) who, along with the other ladies, will be wooing Daniel Day Lewis in the movie.
OK how on Earth can this get any better?

Elegy ***


Director: Isabel Coixet
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz
Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Debbie Harry, Dennis Hopper

When describing his approach to a woman as "I go yacking away mainly because I want to fuck her", you realize that David Kepesh (Kingsley) is either the world's most honest man or the biggest asshole.
Isabel Coixet's beautiful work in "Elegy" is delivered when she finds the balance between the two.
We learn that Kepesh is a divorced, celebrated author and culture critic whose most stable relationship comes in the shape of Carolyn (an affecting beautiful performance by Clarkson), his mistress of twenty years who always drops by for sex and then leaves for business.
He has become estranged with his son (the reliable Sarsgaard) after he abandoned him as a child and spends time talking about his conquests with his best friend and poet George O'Hearn (Hopper).
One day he meets Consuela Castillo (Cruz), a beautiful, intriguing woman who captures his imagination and happens to be his student. They embark in an affair (after the semester is over, the film isn't about academic scandals...) that then becomes something like love, until he begins to obsess over the fact that she will probably leave him for a younger man.
Based on Philip Roth's "The Dying Animal",the film at first plays like middle age male fantasy where you have an interesting, mature man who never lost his sexual charm finding himself smothered by the unthinkable love that comes in the shape of a beautiful woman thirty years younger.
Narrated by Kingsley with an tone and enunciation reserved for hard boiled film noir, the first part of the plot plays out like what an affair would play out imagined by a Raymond Chandler fan. Here David becomes a distrusting creature, always lurking in the shadows (even the ones inside his head) looking for the right moment to attack.
It's no surprise that during this time we also wait for Consuela to reveal the femme fatale we're convinced she has in her somewhere. Because as David assumes: everything that people will see in them is an old dirty man and a sly young woman trying to get something from him.
When Consuela insists this is love David panicks, taking the story into a path that alters his and our consciousness about age, feelings and mortality.
Because yes, among many things "Elegy" is about coming to terms with death (the opening monologue has David quote Bette Davis herself) but it doesn't pretend to make you settle with this idea, instead Coixet seems to draw from the now overused conception that "life is what happens when you're waiting for it to happen".
Kingsley of course brings a sense of self to David unlike any other actor could. Not only do you feel him connect to the character in a personal way (after old it's a well known film myth that it's the bravest of actors who dare to play their age) but he also gives David a backstory that makes him difficult, but not impossible to understand.
In his scenes with Hopper (which are probably the best in the film) Kingsley portrays the kind of comraderie that takes years to take shape. Hopper also is helpful in creating this sense of a masculine world that sometimes seems impenetrable for women.
If it wasn't for Coixet's delicate, even sensuous approach Roth's hero would stay at a surface level and it would be easy for the audience to decide he's either good or bad.
Her aid in this task is the ever more surprising Penélope Cruz who could've made Consuela a sex bomb, but chooses a restrained, almost ethereal approach and never lets her cultural background become a caricature.
Her performance is extremely sensual, but unintentionally, because she lets her character put a spell on us without showing it. She brings an emotional challenge to David that doesn't even need to rely on a third act twist that feels more like punishment than fate.
The film's major flaw might be the fact that it puts too much emphasis on events that should've felt more organic, but in these mistakes Coixet highlights the duality that has always made women and men so different.
She lets her mistakes be part of who she is and ignores the pride attributed to men who try to play everything like uninterested, unaffected heroes.
It should result ironic that it's a woman who was able to tap so well into the testosterone club of Roth's mind (just take into consideration the title change) to make it something deeply universal.

Another Reason Why I Love Musicals.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Baby Mama **


Director: Michael McCullers
Cast: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler
Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Holland Taylor
Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin

Kate (Fey) is a successful, single businesswoman who's desperate to have a child. She discovers she has a "one in a million" chance of getting pregnant and decides to try surrogacy. After going to an agency (owned by Weaver's hilarious fifty something fertility goddess) she hires Angie (Poehler), an annoying, immature hick who moves in with her until the baby is born.
One part buddy film, one part chick flick and all parts entertaining, this is one of those simple minded (but not stupid) comedies that doesn't try to be anything else than "fun".
Poehler and Fey form one of the most brilliant comedic teams out there. They have the sort of balanced chemistry that proves healthy so that you don't get too much of Fey's mopey bittersweetness or Poehler's absent mindedness.
Supporting turns by Malco as a wise doorman, Kinnear as Fey's love interest and Martin as a New Age-y mogul are all wonderful.
But once the film is over you realize it's almost too nice, even if it takes some unexpected turns and its kind of sweet mannered comedy isn't really memorable.
"Baby Mama" lies at a weird place where it isn't sappy enough to be deemed as just corny or hard enough to become bold.
While it's very funny, its jokes are so subtle that they come at the expense of memories. This might be mostly because the film isn't written by Fey, who truth be told writes herself the best things out there (which justifies her female Woody Allen comparisons) and here becomes object to another writer's idea of what her girl next door charm is all about.
Her performance is great as usual, but sometimes it's as if she, and we, know that films aren't where her best work is being delivered.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Singing Alone In Your Room...




If happy little Romain does it..
Why oh why can't I?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Heaven...I'm in Heaven?


The etymological roots of the word "heaven" take us to the second century where we find the word "heofon" which meant "place where God dwells". Combined with the earlier meaning of "sky" and "firmament" as well as Germanic dialects we end up with the idea of heaven pretty much all of us have created.
But what happens to those of the school of thought that heaven is something different for everyone else? And what about those for whom there is no heaven?
1943's "Cabin in the Sky" is an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name which grabs the Faust concept to tell the story of Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson), a gambler who dies but gets a second chance for redemption when the powers above, and below, decide to give him a six month trial to redeem his soul.
Directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli, in his Hollywood debut, and produced by the extraordinary Arthur Freed (who was perhaps the creator of the film musical as we know it) the film proved to be controversial because of its all-African-American cast, which at the time was considered a commercial bomb as well as scandalous in segregated America.
Nowadays, although the film has aged wonderfully, because of the songs which have become standards as well as the creative script and altogether entertainment, as well as cultural, value one can begin to examine it under a more critical eye, especially because of its depictions of spiritual beliefs and above all heaven.
Despite its groundbreaking qualities, "Cabin in the Sky" still comes off looking as a slightly racist film that suggests that even heaven might've been segregated during the time. Perhaps not intentionally, but sometimes it's a rather upsetting portrait of the historical context.
Everyone in the film is African American, which obviously implies that figures like God or the devil, which historically have been represented as Caucassian males, are black.
Rex Ingram plays Lucifer Jr. with a delightful mix of dark comedy and charm (Louis Armstrong plays one of his henchmen) while Kenneth Spencer plays the General, a sort of archangel, sent to help Little Joe get to paradise.
The screenplay gives them some brilliant moments to play off the duality that lies within human beings. Think of them as those little representations of good and evil which became popular in cartoons. But they also force the audience to wonder if our ideas of the afterlife and spirituality are determined by our racial background.
Hollywood was known for limiting the appearance of black artists (just take a look at the filmography of Butterfly McQueen who is also featured in this film), and one can argue some things haven't really changed (they just call it "urban cinema" nowadays), but what can be made about the mutual exclusion this has brought onto artistic manifestations?
Because "Cabin in the Sky", although produced with what one assumes was a pretty much white crew, comes off looking as if it was made in a world where everyone had the same skin color.
There are several factors that come to mind as causes and consequences of this representation, including the fact that perhaps the film was aimed at a specific demographic and social group, that the idea of a majorly black cast instantly made actors of other races ineligible to be hired, or that maybe it was purposely done as some sort of "payback" for the mistreatment which had been given to black performers up to that point. Joe's wife, Petunia (played wonderfully by the exceptional Ethel Waters) at one point utters "sometimes when you fight the devil, you gotta jab him with his own pitchfork" which could very well express the injustice of intolerant behavior and the use of "eye for an eye" philosophy to take on it.
Maybe a white audience member watching this would wonder "why aren't there any white people here?" which would have the same repercussions of a black person watching a predominantly white film.
...or not, which is why "Cabin in the Sky" comes off as a film that has a lot of flavor but still can't help but feel bittersweet.
It has (un-?) surprisingly remained mostly unknown throughout the years (it was out of print until 2006) despite the fact that it's perhaps one of the most enjoyable early modern musicals (and worthy if only to see the delicious Lena Horne grab a flower to wear as a femme fatale hat) and can even be seen as a sort of "The Wizard of Oz" remake.
Despite the fact that the film is plagued with stereotypes which come as a shadow over film history (as well as having some cinematic flaws mostly related to its somewhat stagey transition from Broadway to Hollywood) the one thing that the movie never loses is a sort of unbridled joy.
It takes twists and turns that are completely implausible, but it does so with such style and, might one say it, sass, that make the happiness its trademark song talks about believable, despite the hell that was raging on outside.

- This post is part of "Musical of the Month" hosted by Nathaniel Rogers of "The Film Experience".

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Eagle Eye *


Director: D.J. Caruso
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan
Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Ethan Embry

An exercise in preposterousness, "Eagle Eye" might very well be the most expensive rant against the Patriot Act ever conceived.
Yet to give this film any sort of political connotations is to shower it with the kindness and goodwill it doesn't care to provide its audience.
LaBeouf stars as Jerry Shaw, a twenty something slacker who comes home one day to find his apartment filled with explosives, weapons and forged documents.
His cell phone rings and a female voice warns him that the FBI will be there any minute and that he must escape.
Simultaneously, young single mother Rachel Holloman (Monaghan) is contacted by the same female voice who warns her that her little son will be killed unless she follows specific orders.
Soon Rachel and Jerry find themselves teaming up to complete the mission given by the mysterious voice, who contacts them through strangers' cell phones, TV screens, aiport signs, moving cranes and every other device short of a coconut phone or smoke signals.
The unlikely team finds itself travelling across the country while being followed by FBI agents (Thornton, Embry and Dawson each as exchangeable as the other) and uncovering a horrific plan forged by the most unexpected source. And not because of the source itself, but the channel, which is as lazy an excuse for a filmmaker as the "it was all a dream" device in literature.
LaBeouf is as always a charming and semi-reliable screen presence (although you may sometimes wonder how many shocked expressions he can come up with during one sequence), Monaghan is nothing but ornament and the rest of the characters could've been played by computers and nobody would've known the difference.
If there is any political connotaion within this film it might come in the opposing creative forces that are so obvious watching what the director was going for (and judging from his filmography it's easy to guess) and the bigger need to give the movie some brains.
Because "Eagle Eye" would be a decent, popcorn thriller if it didn't try at some point to become meaningful (which one can't help but assume was influence of executive producer Steven Spielberg), because whatever it thinks it has to say gets lost among the tons of car chases, explosions and quick cuts.
While Caruso obviously wanted to pay homage to the "ordinary man in extraordinary situation" brilliance of Hitchcock (even if LaBeouf is definitely no Jimmy Stewart and Thornton no Cary Grant), the rest of the plot feels like it's trying too hard to expose just how awful and scary technology is.
The director steals key moments from "North by Northwest" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much", but before you can say "que será será", there's a flash of "2001: a Space Odyseey" and the film has become self parody.
Going out of "Eagle Eye", after spending half the movie texting your friends warning them not to see it, you'll realize that the only thing it leaves you with is the bittersweet aftertaste that comes with realizing that even a computer would vote Democrat.